This article was part of the Building Modern Men project on the UK Huffington Post.
Growing up it seems we are bound by the friendships you make, mums and dads slot together with their friends and the kids invariably ‘play together’ forming bonds that last for ‘hours’ in the garden, bedroom or sand pit. The toys did not matter it was the connection with another that was at the heart of every house visit. The choices we make at an early age are as simple as eat or don’t eat, cry, walk/run or sleep. It is this simplicity that is then taken into each and every connection formed.
As we get a little older, a touch more learned in the world, we start to look closely at the cues the world gives us. As young boys the stereotypes of life come thick and fast and as we grow we choose to adopt and take on these beliefs and ideals to make it all fit. To make us fit in.
As young as five we start to trade our sweetness and lovely innocence for things that we are told we need to be.
There used to be a game called Top Trumps back in my early years and I recall how we would be desperate as a group of boys to have the fastest boat, car, plane – the list went on and each category would either let us sit on top or not. On reflection this is symbolic – we start to trade away our selves for the highest numbers to be seen as number 1, to win, to be liked and recognised…You can see how we have drifted away from the innocence and sweetness that was there a few short years before.
These changes are not expedited overnight – the word trade is here significant for if we as boys and men all start out the same - a beautiful innocent, vulnerable & tender heart wrapped in a ‘manly shaped body’. What happens? What truly happens to us all that life re-configures that innocent, vulnerable, open boy to become a hardened, much less gentle & open man? A man that has grown to be less expressive, who communicates what’s essential rather than what is truly felt, that works to provide and has fleeting memories of a time gone by when it was simple – life was truly simple and we loved being that way.
At some point we make a very clear decision that we can no longer hold this way of being and it has to change – the feelings we get from Dad – ‘you cannot be that vulnerable and innocent son the world will eat you alive’ – not that these words are said – the father uses his body, his touch and his own connection to change how things should be. And so this ‘systemic change’ is passed on generation-by-generation and confirmed back in the schoolyard each and everyday. Teachers start to confirm this way of being, introducing tougher ‘man -making ‘ sports, advertisements feature sports stars and strengthening ingredients to make you number 1. The competition is in full swing by the teens and we as boy-men can feel that there is a new wave of having to change that we truly don’t like to feel.
It hurts now – even faint memories of that boy that was so gentle and in tune with the world. The young boy that could play for hours with his sister and her dolls because it was the innocence of play and the true connection that was shared that was so dearly loved.
It hurts to feel all of that which we as men and as boys have given away so we can feature in the world in some way.
It hurts to feel the fact that we have sold our innocence for a job, a career, a perceived step up the ladder in life.
It hurts to know that now we choose alcohol, drugs, food, work, sport, the gym or doing anything to not feel the beauty and innocence we walked away from.
He is still there within us, that delicate, tender, vulnerable boy – he still lives with us as men in every day. We hardened up to not feel him but he is there, we just have to reconnect back to that which we truly know. It’s as simple really as taking a step towards loving yourself a little bit more. We have to gently find our way through the many layers we have used to protect ourselves against feeling how the world has been.